Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has been given permission by a judge to intervene in a case brought by a patent holder against third party developers on the company’s iOS operating system. The news came today from a Texas District Court Judge. The company had originally filed to be given the permission almost a full year ago. The Judge, named James Rodney Gilstrap, made the ruling allowing Apple to intervene as long as their activities were limited to exhaustion in patents and licenses. The heavy case continues to lurch forward weighed down by legal burden and Apple’s admission into the court will not do anything to increase the speed of proceedings. Apple first asked to be allowed permission to intervene in the case last June making today’s announcement cover a wait of ten months for the Cupertino California firm.
The lawsuit was originally filed one year ago by Lodsys, a company that owns patents relating to in-app purchases on Apple’s platform. In-App purchases refers to sales made on Apps of upgrades to their products or different applications. Apple itself, along with Google and Microsoft, license the firms patents in that area but Lodsys is arguing that those agreements did not cover applications made by third party developers which make the majority of the software available on Apple’s app store. Apple and the developers listed as defendants say that that argument is wrong and Apple says the suit is specifically aimed at that company with smaller company’s being attacked as a proxy to undermine the existing licensing agreement. The suit listed several large developers like Rovio as well as some smaller independent developers.
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The suit demonstrates the weaknesses in the App developer model pioneered by Apple and taken on by both Google and Microsoft. The birth of small independent developers has been celebrated since the bloom of the mobile application industry but there are problems inherent in it. Patent suits such as this one require a huge amount of resources to compete in and smaller developers simply don’t have access to the money or expertise needed. If Apple had failed to step in or was not allowed by the court the developers would have been left naked. This suit did include several large developers and they provided some buffer. A case brought against only smaller people in the industry could be so entirely one sided as to be almost impossible to win. Apple needs to continue to protect its precious developers from moves like this.